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Elsie Inglis
Chapter IX - Scottish Women's Hospitals


"From the first the personality of Dr. Inglis was the main asset in this splendid venture. She continued to be its inspiration to the end."

August, 1914, found many a man and woman unconsciously prepared and ready for the testing time ahead. Elsie Inglis was one of these.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Inglis completed her fiftieth year in the August that war broke out. She started on her great work of the next years with all the vigour and freshness of youth.

In her own words, already quoted, we can describe her at the beginning of the war:

"Her ship was flying over a sunlit sea, the good wind bulging out the canvas. She felt the thrill and excitement of adventure in her veins as she stood at the helm and gazed across the dancing waters.... Joy had done its work, and sorrow and responsibility had come with its stimulating spur, and the ardent delight of battle in a great crusade....

"New powers she had discovered in herself, new responsibilities in the life around her.... She was ready for her 'adventure brave and new.' Rabbi Ben Ezra waited for death to open the gate to it, but to her it seemed that she was in the midst of it now, that 'adventure brave and new' in which death itself was also to be an adventure.... 'The Power of an Endless Life.' The words thrilled her, not with the prospects of rest, but with the excitement of advance...."

War was declared on August 4. On the 10th the idea of the Scottish Women's Hospitals—hospitals staffed entirely by women—had been mooted at the committee meeting of the Scottish Federation of Women's Suffrage Societies. Once the idea was given expression to, nothing was able to stop its growth. A special Scottish Women's Hospital committee was formed out of members of the Federation and Dr. Inglis's personal friends. Meetings were organized all over the country; an appeal for funds was sent broadcast over Scotland; money began to flow in; the scheme was taken up by the whole body of the N.U.W.S.S. Mrs. Fawcett wrote approvingly. The Scottish Women's Hospitals Committee at their headquarters in Edinburgh divided up into subcommittees: equipment, uniforms, cars, personnel, and so on. Offers for service came in every day, until soon over 400 names were waiting the choice of the personnel committee. The headquarters offices in 2, St. Andrew Square became a busy hive. Enthusiasm was written on the face of every worker. By the end of November the first fully equipped Unit, under Miss Ivens of Liverpool was on its way to the old Abbey of Royaumont in France. Dr. Alice Hutchison with ten nurses was in Calais working under the Belgian surgeon, Dr. de Page. A second Unit as well equipped as the first was almost ready to start for Serbia. It sailed in the beginning of January, under Dr. Eleanor Soltau, Dr. Inglis herself following in the April of 1915.

But even with all this dispatch, the S.W.H. were not the first Women's Hospital in the field. As early as September, 1914, Dr. Flora Murray and Dr. Louisa Garrett Anderson had taken a Unit, staffed entirely by women, to Paris, where they did excellent work.

Until Dr. Inglis's departure for Serbia, her whole time and strength and boundless energy had been thrown into the building up of the organization of the Scottish Women's Hospitals. She addressed countless meetings all over the Kingdom, making the scheme known and appealing for money, and at the same time her insight and enthusiasm never ceased to be the mainspring of the activity at the office in Edinburgh, where the heart of the Scottish Women's Hospitals was to be found. Miss Mair describes Dr. Inglis during these months thus:

"A certain stir of feeling might be perceptible in the busy hive at the office of organization when a specially energetic visit of the Chief had been paid. Had the impossible been accomplished? If not, why? Who had failed in performance? Take the task from her; give it to another. No excuses in war-time, no weakness to be tolerated—onward, ever onward.

"To those inclined to hesitate, or at least to draw breath occasionally in the course of their heavy work of organizing, raising money, gathering equipment, securing transport, passports, and attending to the other innumerable secretarial affairs connected with so big a task, she showed no weakening pity; the one invariable goad applied was ever, 'it is war-time.' No one must pause, no one must waver; things must simply be done, whether possible or not, and somehow by her inspiration they generally were done. In these days of agonizing stress she appeared as in herself the very embodiment of wireless telegraphy, aeronautic locomotion, with telepathy and divination thrown in—neither time nor space was of account. Puck alone could quite have reached her standard with his engirdling of the earth in forty minutes. Poor limited mortals could but do their best with the terrestrial means at their disposal. Possibly at times their make-weight steadied the brilliant work of their leader."

In a letter to Mrs. Fawcett dated October 4, 1914, she says:

"I can think of nothing except those Units just now; and when one hears of the awful need, one can hardly sit still till they are ready."


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